Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a form of eczema that is more common in men than women. It usually affects those aged 30 to 60 years. 

The term seborrheic means “sebaceous gland,” and dermatitis means “skin inflammation.” The areas of the body where the glands secrete sebaceous oil tend to be affected more by this skin condition. When this condition affects babies, it is referred to as cradle cap.


Researchers and skin care experts do not fully understand the causes of this form of dermatitis. It appears that many factors work together to cause this skin disorder, such as genetics, stress, personal health, and climate.

A yeast called Malassezia is associated with seborrheic dermatitis. This fungus grows in the skin’s oily secretion of sebum. Doctors do know, however, that seborrheic dermatitis is not an allergy, is not caused from poor personal hygiene, is not contagious and does not harm the body.

You are at increased risk for developing seborrheic dermatitis if you have any of these medical conditions:

  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Acne
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea
  • HIV
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism
  • Eating disorder


The symptoms and signs of this type of eczema vary from person to person. For adults and adolescents, common skin regions for this condition include the scalp (commonly known as dandruff), ears, eyebrows, face, trunk, armpits, and genitalia. Common symptoms include:

  • Scaly skin patches
  • Flaking of scales that are yellow or white
  • Reddened skin beneath scaly patches
  • Greasy and moist-appearing skin patches
  • Itching
  • Burning

For infants, seborrheic dermatitis typically affects the scalp. Common symptoms are:

  • Scaling that is greasy and yellow
  • Thick layer or scale over the scalp
  • Flaky scaling rash


There are many treatments used to control seborrheic dermatitis. These include:

  • Dandruff shampoos
  • Barrier-repair creams
  • Nizoral (ketoconazole) shampoo – Available over-the-counter in 1 percent concentration and by prescription at 2 percent strength.
  • Tar and sulfur shampoos – Found in Neutrogena TGel and other products.
  • Zinc pyrithione preparations – Available over-the-counter.
  • Salicylic acid solutions – Have a mild compound that loosens up scalp scales.
  • Selenium sulfide preparations – Can cause scalp irritation and hair color changes.
  • Ciclopirox – A prescription shampoo and skin product that can cause skin irritation.
  • Terbinafine tablets – For severe cases, some doctors prescribe oral antifungal agents.
  • Topical corticosteroids – These are used to decrease inflammation and soothe itching. They are not recommended for long-term use.
  • Calcineurin inhibitors – Prescription creams that lower the body’s immune system activity.

Practical Tips and Self-Care

  • Consult your health practitioner.
  • Avoid causes if known.
  • Don’t stop prescribed treatments.
  • Focus on living healthy.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Try relaxation and stress reduction techniques.
  • Wash hair with medicated shampoo two to three times each week.
  • Use over-the-counter antifungal cream, such as ketoconazole.
  • Apply anti-itch creams as necessary.
  • Avoid harsh detergents, soaps, and shampoos.
  • Wear cotton clothing to keep air circulating and avoid skin irritation.
  • Shave off the beard and mustache.

When to See the Doctor

You should consult with a doctor if:

  • You suspect you have a skin infection.
  • Your condition is not improving with self-care.
  • You cannot sleep or concentrate at school or work.
  • You’ve had no success with home therapies.

Home - Types of Eczema - Seborrheic Dermatitis

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